Hours after winning a playoff game with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2020, tight end Travis Kelce chatted with his older brother, Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce, about the intricacies of blocking defensive linemen while the siblings devoured dinner at a steakhouse.
As they laughed, Travis Kelce’s longtime manager, Aaron Eanes, realized that the moments delighting him could be projected to millions of viewers and listeners. Shortly after the meal, they all started talking seriously about putting together a podcast.
“New Heights,” the audio and video series that the Kelces began in September 2022, now consistently ranks as the top weekly sports podcast on Apple, Spotify and other platforms, fueled in part by their teams’ Super Bowl matchup in February and Travis Kelce’s budding relationship with the pop star Taylor Swift.
“I think it’s fun and guys will keep doing it as long as there’s a thirst from the audience,” Jason Kelce said. “It feels like that’s the model a lot of guys are going to.”
The Kelces, whose teams will face off in a rematch on Monday night, are emblematic of the surge of N.F.L. players who have begun hosting podcasts during the season, a surprising development in a league that tends to suppress individuality. The next-man-up mind-set is pervasive in a violent sport that requires its athletes to be concealed in helmets, and in a league that enforces a strict uniform policy and delivers five-figure fines for excessive celebrations.
But an influx of younger, more tolerant coaches and executives, as well as players who are becoming more business-conscious, has opened the door for several N.F.L. stars to moonlight as podcast hosts, including Buffalo Bills linebacker Von Miller, Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons and Miami Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill.
Filled with insights about their performances, off-field adventures and the league’s daily chatter, the podcasts are a direct portal to fans and a way for players to build their brands.
“The football mentality is always, ‘Go, go, go, lock in, lock in,’ nonstop,” Hill said. “We’re coming into a day and age where football players, we want to be monetized, we want to be seen on the big screen. Everything is about branding yourself these days, and if you don’t do that, you’re going to fall behind and miss out.”
The phenomenon of active athletes hosting podcasts largely started in the N.B.A., where players can command more attention because there are smaller rosters and more frequent games. Early entries included JJ Redick’s “The Vertical” in 2016 and Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye’s “Road Trippin’” in 2017.
Perhaps the first active N.F.L. players to host a podcast were offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, who was playing for the Tennessee Titans in 2019 when he started “Bussin’ With the Boys,” and his former teammate Will Compton, a free agent at the time.
Podcasting is particularly attractive to players who are still generating N.F.L. highlights and not enjoying a relaxing retirement. The foray into a lucrative entertainment landscape is one they can fit into a regimented schedule. Hill said he started his podcast, “It Needed to Be Said,” partly to prepare for a potential broadcasting career.
The financial upside can be gigantic: This year Pat McAfee, a former punter for the Indianapolis Colts, signed a deal with ESPN, reportedly worth $85 million, to bring his popular show to the network. Brands such as Bleacher Report, which works with Parsons and Miller, have increasingly signed up athletes. And the medium has become a growth area for agencies who represent players.